US uses veto power on Gaza truce call


THE UN Security Council has failed to agree on a statement calling for an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza Strip after the United States argued a return to the situation that existed before Israel's ground invasion was unacceptable.

After nearly four hours of closed-door consultations late Saturday, members of the council emerged without reaching agreement that would have asked Israel and Hamas to end eight-day hostilities that have claimed the lives of at least 460 Palestinians. The meeting was the Council's third since Israel started air strikes on Dec 27.

French Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert, who presides in the council this month, said "there was no formal agreement between member states" on a Gaza statement. "But I have noted strong convergencies about our concern at the escalation of violence and the deterioration of the situation and strong convergencies on our call for an immediate, durable and respected ceasefire," Ripert said.

A draft statement submitted earlier for the council's consideration by Libya on behalf of the Arab League had expressed "serious concern" about the ground invasion and called on the parties "to observe an immediate ceasefire and for its full respect".

However, the document made no mention of the ongoing Hamas rocket attacks on Israeli territory that Israel said prompted its offensive against Gaza, and the British and US envoys said the draft seemed too partial.

US deputy envoy Alejandro Wolff, talking to reporters after the consultations, said Washington believed it was important that the region "not return to the status quo" that had allowed Hamas to fire rockets into Israel.

"The efforts we are making internationally are designed to establish a sustainable, durable ceasefire that's respected by all," Wolff said.

As Israel's closest ally, Washington has regularly vetoed Security Council resolutions it sees as too critical of the Jewish state.

Libyan Ambassador Giadalla Ettalhi said the impasse had produced "a sad day for the Security Council" as it failed once again "to voice its outrage at the escalation of the situation in Gaza."

The Libyan draft, however, still remains on the table, and Arab foreign ministers are expected here next week to push for a ceasefire statement. They will be joined by Western-backed Palestinian Authority president Mahmud Abbas.

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